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Excerpt from
A Christmas In Bath 

When Miss Mary Arbuckle received the note from Glee Blankenship imploring her to come straight away to her house on Queen Square, Miss Arbuckle began to tremble. Had something happened to Jonathan Blankenship? It was not like Glee to order people about. Especially since Glee rather had her hands full with a new infant son and an entirely too precocious daughter not quite three years of age.

 Miss Arbuckle wrapped herself in her faded red cape, put on her woolen gloves, twirled a muffler about her neck, and began the walk to Queen Square. Other young ladies subjected to the discomfort of walking in this extreme cold might have wished to command a luxurious coach and four to whisk them about this hilly watering city.

Unlike other girls, Miss Arbuckle's thoughts had never been occupied with wishing for things that were unobtainable. At a very early age she had come to accept that her widowed mother would never be possessed of wealth. She had also come to terms with the fact that she would never be a beauty. Her looking glass only too plainly confirmed that the most to which Miss Arbuckle could ever aspire was to be considered tolerable looking.

Because of her pragmatism, she had long accepted her fate as a spinster of extremely modest means. Such acceptance could have been sorely tried by the company she kept. Ever since she had attended Miss Worth's School for Young Ladies, her closest circle of friends had consisted of other young ladies of Quality who were in possession of beauty, wealth, and in many cases, rank.

Ten minutes of very fast walking brought her to the Blankenship's fine home. Inside, as she was divesting herself of her cape beneath a huge sparkling chandelier, the lovely Glee Blankenship came scurrying down the stairs to greet her.

Even though the two had been friends since they attended Miss Worth's School for Young Ladies together, Miss Arbuckle never failed to be struck over Glee's beauty. Perhaps it was because Glee was the antithesis of shy, drab, bookish Miss Arbuckle. Though Glee was considerably shorter than Miss Arbuckle, her vibrant personality was in perfect harmony with her fiery red hair, giving her a presence much larger than her stature would merit.

Only when Glee reached the gilt and marble entry corridor did Miss Arbuckle notice that she was carrying her babe. "I do thank you for coming, Miss Arbuckle! Please, let us go sit in the drawing room."

In the ivory drawing room, the butter-coloured silken draperies were open, providing the chamber with more light than other rooms, but it was still an excessively dreary day. It was, after all, December in Bath.

Glee sat opposite Miss Arbuckle, who had taken a seat upon one of a pair of silk brocade sofas that faced each other in front of the fire. Glee first addressed inarticulate noises to her little  red-headed babe. Then, to Miss Arbuckle's astonishment, Glee lowered the bodice of her gown and lifted away that part of a woman's anatomy that provided sustenance. The babe began to greedily suckle.

Mary's cheeks turned scarlet. She had never before witnessed such a display! This was most shocking indeed. Miss Arbuckle was most determined to ignore what Glee was doing and concentrate on what she was saying.

It was, however, difficult not ponder the question of why Glee Blankenship had not procured a wet nurse. It was not as if Gregory Blankenship—Glee's husband—was not sinfully wealthy.

There was not the least trace of embarrassment in Glee's voice when she spoke. "I wanted to tell you that Jonathan is coming to spend Christmas with us in Bath."

There was certainly nothing shattering in that remark. Why had Glee led Miss Arbuckle to believe the matter was so urgent? Then a thought, a truly petrifying thought, penetrated into Miss Arbuckle's brain. He's bringing a wife. Glee wanted to prepare Miss Arbuckle for the heart-breaking news.

Though the two women had never discussed Miss Arbuckle's feelings for Mr. Jonathan Blankenship, Glee had to know that her friend had loved him since the first day he had ever favored her with a comment.

Whenever he was in Bath, Jonathan Blankenship and Miss Arbuckle spent a great deal of time together, and the two of them shared many interests. He was the only young man who had ever danced with her at the Assembly Rooms, the only man who had ever brought her flowers, the only man who had ever honored her with his attentions.

Miss Arbuckle's eyes rounded. "Why should that matter to me?" Her disinterest, Glee had to know, was an act.

"I know very well, Mary Arbuckle, that you're in love with my brother-in-law. Can you deny it?"

Still fearing that Glee was going to notify her of Mr. Blankenship's nuptials, she shrugged. "I will own that I have a strong attachment to him, but there has never been any form of understanding between us."

"I know that very well, you goose! I have decided that you must give the man a little push so he'll realize you're the very woman to be his perfect wife."

Miss Arbuckle's sweating palms uncoiled, and she expelled the breath she was holding. He wasn't wed to another!

Then Glee’s words sunk in. Miss Arbuckle had never allowed herself to give consideration to marrying dear Mr. Blankenship. "You forget that unlike you, I am not a beauty who can easily claim men's hearts. Nor am I possessed of fortune, and as a second son, Mr. Blankenship will surely be compelled to marry a woman who brings a comfortable dowry. I have resigned myself to being Mr. Blankenship's friend. Nothing more."

"Pooh! How long have you known him now?"

"Four years."

"And you are how old?"

Miss Arbuckle swallowed over her mortification. "The same as you. Three and twenty." An old maid, to be sure.

"I will not allow you to resign yourself to being a spinster." Glee deprived her babe of his nourishment, gently dabbed a cloth around his little mouth, and spoke some unintelligible nonsense to him.

All the while, Mary tried not to allow her gaze to drop below Glee's neck. "No one chooses to be a spinster. It just happens to be my fate."

"Pooh!" Glee began to nurse again, but Mary refused to let her eye lower.

"If Jonathan asked you to marry him, would you accept?" Glee asked.

Not without an alien fluttering in her heart, Miss Arbuckle nodded.

 “It is my belief that Jonathan is already in love with you, but he just doesn’t realize it. Now, Miss Arbuckle, we must plan our strategy.”

Mary swallowed over the huge lump in her throat. “Our strategy?”

“Indeed. When I determined to capture Blanks’s heart, I went about it in much the same way a general plans his battle strategy.”

“Then you are far more clever than I.”

“Jonathan would never agree with that. I declare, he has told me hundreds of times how uncommonly clever you are.”

Miss Arbuckle warmed under such praise. “It would be false modesty for me to attempt to refute that for I realize that Mr. Blankenship does credit me with thinking like an intelligent man. The pity of it is, he rather thinks of me as a man. To him, I am a very dear friend, like his friend Melvin Steffington. Nothing more.”

“Then it is our job to make him see you with new eyes.”

“New or old eyes, I am still plain.”

“Being plain is not at all the same as being ugly. Because you are not ugly, it will be excessively easy to render you prettier. You must give me a free hand.”

Miss Arbuckle shook her head. “It is difficult for one to appear pretty without pretty clothes, and I assure you, Mama’s limited funds are stretched to the limit as it is.”

“You are a good seamstress, are you not?”

She nodded. “But fabric comes very dearly.”

 “Sweet Sally wanted me to find a good use for the dresses which she has been unable to get back into since the birth of her twins. Since you are tallish like Sally, they will do very well for you—with modifications, of course. Your bosom is much larger than Sally's, which is non-existent."

How could Mrs. Blankenship speak of bosom without even lowering her voice? Once again, the flush stole into Miss Arbuckle's cheeks.

Miss Arbuckle would not recognize herself in fine ball gowns. She had never owned any. The very idea of wearing lovely clothes that had been made for a countess suffused Miss Arbuckle with a feeling of uncommon lightness. “I don’t know. . .”

"I assure you, the gowns are lovely," Glee continued. "My brother selected them himself for her after he recovered from the fire, and now he is delighting himself by selecting new gowns for her.”

"Are you certain Lady Sedgewick would not object?"

“Of course I am. Put your trust in me. When you go to the assemblies, it’s essential you leave off the spectacles. Men are not attracted to them. Until they’re in love with you. Then they love you just as you are.”

“Whenever Jonathan Blankenship is in Bath, I do try to go without my spectacles.”

“I know when the two of you are together sharing poems and treatises, you will have to wear them, but he’s so obsessive over those pursuits I daresay he won’t take a look at you.”

That was true. “I don't believe he looks at me as a woman.”

A wicked smile danced upon Glee’s face. “I mean to change that.”

“I don’t know. . . It has occurred to me that Mr. Blankenship is one of those men who is neither interested in women nor desirous of uniting himself to one.”

“We will see, my dear Miss Arbuckle. We will see.”

It was not in Mary Arbuckle’s nature to be anything but compliant. “I shouldn’t like to use trickery on dear Mr. Blankenship.”

“I wouldn’t call it trickery. It's simply a matter of assisting him to the place of his greatest happiness. What man would not wish to be there?”

“But how can you know where his happiness is?”

“Because he’s my dear Blanks’s brother! Trust me, Miss Arbuckle, I am a great student of human nature. I do know that he loves you. He first fell in love with your fine mind; now, he needs to be stunned by your appearance. ”

Glee’s little son had fallen to sleep. As Glee went to restore her clothing, Miss Arbuckle effected great interest in the fire blazing in the hearth.

“There is more!” Glee added.

Miss Arbuckle’s stomach felt as if she were falling from a great height.  “Dear God, tell me you have not told him of my feelings!”

Glee gently shook her head, then lowered he lashes to peer at her babe's sweet face.

Unaccountably, Miss Arbuckle felt a stab of envy. Not for Glee’s beauty. Or for her wealth. But for the family she loved so dearly, the family that loved her just as devotedly.

“I have a plan to make Jonathan jealous,” Glee said.

“There is nothing that would make him jealous because he is not in love with me.”

“He is too. He just doesn’t know it yet. It’s our task to show him that of all the women in the wide world, you are the one who was created to be his mate."

Glee truly was possessed of a remarkable understanding of human nature for she had just perfectly described how Miss Arbuckle felt about Jonathan Blankenship. “One would have to be very adept at conjuring to accomplish such a feat.”

“Conjuring has nothing to do with it. Because I know he loves you, I know that when he thinks another man wishes to steal your affections, he will do everything in his power to woo you.”

Miss Arbuckle's mouth gaped open in astonishment. "Another man? It appears my conjuring reference was justified."

"There will be another man. Leave that to me."

"I will own, you have far more experience than I in matters of love, my dear Mrs. Blankenship, but I cannot give credit to what you're saying."

"You admitted you would like to marry Jonathan. Now you must allow me to ensure that it happens." Glee rose. "Come up to my chamber so I can begin your physical transformation. He arrives this afternoon, and I mean for you to nearly steal his breath away."


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